Tel Aviv in late spring is hard to beat. (It makes sense; aviv is Hebrew for spring!) Take a stroll down the waterfront promenade and take in the smell of saltwater mingling with falafel, the rhythmic sounds of matkot being played on the sand, and the impossibly blue, sparkling Mediterranean sea stretching as far as the eye can see. And nothing beats a Tel Aviv sunset. One moment, you're sipping your Goldstar, staring out at the water, and suddenly, as if out of nowhere, a fierce red orb is lowering itself into the ocean. The sky erupts in color to match. And your heart sings.
Tel Aviv may not be the place to go if you're looking for religious or historical landmarks. But it has so much to offer, from incredible nightlife to diverse and wonderful food, not to mention the beach, the shops....Tel Aviv is a lively, modern, exciting city. And pulsing through all this is the essential spirit of Israel.
One of my favorite parts of Tel Aviv, is of course, the Carmel Market. (שוק הכרמל, or Shuk HaKarmel ) What a glorious place! In Israel, nearly every city has a shuk (an open air market). Produce in Israel is really amazing, so these markets are really a treat. But that's far from all. The shuks tend to sell everything, especially in Tel Aviv. Fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese, olives, sweets galore, fresh squeezed juice, Israeli pastries, nuts, spices, and jeweled rows of dried fruits that go wayyy beyond what one usually imagines (dried kiwi, anyone?) It is a feast for the senses, and overflowing with personality.
One of the biggest treats in the Carmel market, in my opinion, is a humble little "street food" type place right in the middle of the market. It is fabulous. I wish I remembered more details, but alas, I do not know what it is called, or realllly where to find it, I'm sorry, but it's a small enough market and if you set out to find it, you will. It was right next to the olive stand pictured above. Anyway.
The sandwich that I ate (quite a few times actually) in the Carmel market is one of the best things I have ever eaten. Meat (either chicken, lamb or both- clearly I chose both) is cooked on a large griddle with onions and...you know, that could be it. It's just perfectly cooked and beaaauuuutifully seasoned. It's juicy, flavorful, savory, and served on a fresh ciabatta roll or in pita, and I'm pretty sure there was hummus in there, but I'm not positive. I think what really seals the deal is the condiments and toppings offered. Tahini sauce is a must. And then there's this orange colored sauce, and I have no idea what it's called or what it's made of ("Go to this place...not sure where it is..and eat...well, I'm not sure what exactly is in it...." Bear with me.) The orange condiment is something I saw all over Israel, at falafel and shawarma shops. It's sort of spicy and really intensely seasoned. It tastes frigging amazing on meat. That's all I know. If any Israelis could help me out here, I would be very pleased to know the actual name!
Moving on. This past spring, Lisa flew out to Tel Aviv from France, so she could travel with me in my last month in Israel. One of our absolute best friends from back in America, Chloe, called me out of the blue one evening and told me she was coming to Israel...in three days! She had gotten off the waitlist for a trip, and we figured out that we were all set to be in Tel Aviv at the same time. Chloe's group was set to go to the Carmel market on the same day that Lisa and I arrived back in Tel Aviv from visiting a friend in the North. Serendipity! We went to meet her, and were happy to find out that she had a couple hours of free time to just hang out with us and catch up. Lisa and I hadn't eaten, so we went to get those delicious meat sandwiches. We asked Chlo if she wanted one, but she said she'd already eaten. She tried our sandwiches, however, and it was obvious that she was starting to maybe have second thoughts. Before she could go order her own, however, an Israeli man in his sixties walked up to our table, and with a smile, handed her a sandwich. He had heard and watched us, and went and bought her a sandwich. She thanked him profusely, and he just put a hand over his heart and smiled at her. It was a random act of kindness and love, and to me, it represents what I've come to know as Israel. Wherever you go, people are warm, welcoming, and immediately treat you like family. During my six months in Israel, I always felt that vibe. People would offer help when I didn't even ask for it; giving directions, offering rides, helping us foreigners hail taxis or find the right bus...everything. I remember taking a bus down to my kibbutz, and being so worried that the driver would skip my stop and bring me straight to Eilat...I told one person, and soon the entire bus was telling me "Your stop is next!" and even reminding the driver for me in Hebrew. Or, my friend, an American who's moved to Israel, got sick last year and couldn't afford the medication she was trying to buy. When she walked out of line in tears, the entire queue of people behind her starting yelling in protest and collectively insisted on buying the medicine for her. This is normal. Or...I sent out a couple of couchsurfing requests, and the people who couldn't host me, instead of just politely saying they weren't available, would offer me instead to stay with their parents, or friends, or invite me along on the trip that was preventing them from hosting! It was unbelievable.
I hope this story inspires you to maybe do something similar. I know when I was traveling, it really touched me when people went out of their way to do something nice for me because I was foreign. It's such a small gesture, but when you're traveling, the littlest things really do make a difference. I will never forget the strangers who went out of their way to do something nice for me, and I really hope that I can do the same for others...